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Some of Former President Trump's Co-Defendants in Georgia Election Interference Trial Using Crowdfunding to Raise Money for Legal Fees; Transportation Security Administration Expects Heavy Air Travel in U.S. over Labor Day Weekend. Trump's Co-Defendants in Georgia Case Struggle to Pay Legal Mounting Bills; Convicted Suspect Escapes Prison Outside Philadelphia. Aired 8-8:30a ET.

Aired September 01, 2023 - 08:00   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Happy Friday. Poppy is off this week. Audie Cornish is up in New York here with us.

And we're going to go dive right in on a very busy day of news. Former President Trump pleading not guilty in the Georgia election subversion case. And new this hour, why some of his co-defendants are turning to crowdfunding to cover their defense since their arrest.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR: An urgent manhunt is underway right now after a convicted murderer escaped a Pennsylvania prison. The district attorney says the killer's depravity knows no bounds and warns the public that he is extremely dangerous with nothing to lose.

MATTINGLY: And this hour, the Labor Department is set to release the August jobs report. We're going to get a snapshot of how the U.S. economy is faring. Can the labor market stay in that sweet spot it's been in for several months, not too hot, not too cold, a little goldilocks here, Friday? This hour of CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

Former President Trump has pled not guilty for the fourth time. This time he is saying he didn't conspire to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia in the case brought by Fulton County D.A. against Trump and 18 alleged co-conspirators. The former president opted not to enter the plea in person next Wednesday, waiving his arraignment. And that's not the only legal move Trump is making in this case. His legal team has also filed a motion to sever his case from the co-defendants would want a speedy trial. That would be attorney Sidney Powell and Kenneth Chesebro so far. Now, Chesebro is the alleged co-conspirator who wrote the memos advocating for the fake elector scheme. The district attorney is pushing for the trial to again on October 23rd, a date that Trump's attorney says will not give them, quote, sufficient time to prepare.

CORNISH: But what about sufficient money? We know his PAC has spent about $40 million so far on legal fees, not just covering his own legal fees, but those of his aides, advisors, and employees in the House's January 6th Committee investigation and in the federal investigations. So what about his 18 co-defendants in the Georgia case?


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It's so sad. And they don't have a lot of money. And some of them, almost nothing. They don't even know what they are being charged for. It's just a horrible thing. I don't even know -- again, I don't even know some of these people.


CORNISH: Here is the thing. It's not just lawyers and people in Trump's inner circle charged in this case. It's also local election officials, a bail bondsman, a pastor. How are they going to cover their legal expenses?

We're going to discuss this with CNN national correspondent Kristen Holmes. So Kristen, help us understand how the co-defendants are raising money to do defend themselves.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Audie and Phil. Well, right now, Trump is not helping any of his co-defendants in footing these bills. And in fact, they are so expensive that one of the co-defendants, Harrison Floyd, who leads Black Voices for Trump, actually spent a week in jail because he couldn't afford these attorney fees, or to hire an attorney.

Because of this, they are turning to many different ways to try and raise the funds that they need for a legal defense, and that includes crowdfunding. Four of them are raising money on these crowdfunding sites. I want to pull it up here and show you just how much funds they are getting. Jenna Ellis, who was an attorney for Donald Trump, raised $180,000. John Eastman, another election lawyer for Trump, raising $500,000. Jeffrey Clark, the former DOJ official, $56,000. And Cathy Latham, who was a fake elector, raising $15,000. You can see here, this is a lot of money. These bills really add up.

And one other person I want to point out is Rudy Giuliani. His son created a PAC to help pay his legal bills, and Trump is helping him a little bit. I don't mean financially, but he is hosting a fundraising for Giuliani next week. it's $100,000 a plate for that fundraiser for each person. So again, he will be there for that. But as of now, not actually paying any of the bills, but I was told by one Trump official that if people wanted help, they should apply to Trump's legal defense fund, which is something that was set up in July.

MATTINGLY: Kristen, it's about that fund, I have been in the corner of my brain, I've been thinking about what happened to that, how has it been developing. Remember, I think you broke the news that they were going to create it the same time period as when the FEC was disclosing just how much money the super PAC had been spending on his behalf, his leadership PAC, on his behalf. What's the latest on that?

[08:05:01] HOLMES: Well, first of all, when we talk about that leadership PAC, they have spent more than $41 million since 2021 on legal fees. And in fact, they are bleeding out so much money on these legal fees that they requested a refund for $60 million that they gave to a super PAC that is defending -- that is supporting Donald Trump, and they do expect to get that money back.

In terms of the legal defense fund, it is a non-profit. We are told that Don Jr. and Eric Trump are doing most of the fundraising around that, and they have a significant amount of pledges. Therefore, someone was telling me that these Georgia defendants, if they get enough money in this legal defense fund, could apply and potentially get help here.

As of now, though, it's doesn't seem clear how much is actually in there and how much of this is just pledges. And I do want to make one thing clear -- that fund is for these legal bills of aides and advisors, not for the former president. It just goes to show you, again, they are bleeding money from that Save America PAC, enough to have to request a refund for a donation that they need to a super PAC. Clearly they need the money, and clearly that's why they set up this defense fund.

CORNISH: We're going to dig in this more in a few minutes, but for now we're going to let you go. Kristen Holmes, thanks.

MATTINGLY: So Trump may be pleading not guilty for the fourth time and probably have a lot of focus on four indictments. Maybe you don't at all because it seems like there is so much going on. But it's important to take a step back here. That's what CNN's Stephen Collinson did this morning in a digital piece on, saying, quote, "A net of justice is tightening around 2020 election deniers." What is he talking about there? There are actually significant legal losses for people who tried to overturn the election results just this week. Top Proud Boys lieutenant Joe Biggs is now facing 17 years in prison. Biggs led the march to the Capitol on January 6th, who is convicted of seditious conspiracy. And former marine Zachary Rehl, president of the group's Philadelphia chapter, he is looking at 15 years. He broke down in tears during sentencing and told the judge, quote, "for what it's worth, I stand here today and say that I am done with it all. I am done with politics. I am done pedaling lies for other people who don't care about me."

Also, two men pleaded guilty to threatening election officials in separate criminal cases. Chad Christopher Stark of Texas pleaded guilty to making threats against public officials in Georgia after the 2020 election, while Joshua Russell of Ohio pleaded guilty to threatening an Arizona election worker, during the 2022 midterm election season. The cases are part of the Justice Department's election threats task force which launched in June 2021 to address the rise in threats against election officials.

CORNISH: It's the start of Labor Day weekend, and AAA is predicting a lot more Americans than last year will be traveling. The organization reports a four percent increase in U.S. travel bookings and a whopping 44 percent jump in international travel bookings compared to last year. But it all comes as hurricane Idalia snarls travel plans in the southeast. CNN's aviation correspondent Pete Muntean joins us live from Washington this morning. So Pete, what are travelers walking into?

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are walking into some crowds and probably no empty middle seats next to them, Audie. This is going to be a climatic end for a huge summer for air travel. The TSA says today will be the busiest at airports of the travel period, 2.7 million people expected to pass through security at America's airports on Friday, 14 million people in total through Wednesday.

But here is the really big number -- 227.5 million people all summer long, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That's what the TSA says. And it's the record. It's the biggest summer for air travel ever. Think about this, though. The cancellations have actually gone down a little bit in number compared to last year. We saw about 50,000 last year, Memorial Day to Labor Day. This time we have seen about 40,000 in total, so about a 20 percent drop. But travel expert Scott Keyes of Going says there is still so much out of airlines' control, and there is a bit of room to grow here. Listen.


SCOTT KEYES, FOUNDER, GOING.COM: The odds are pretty good. The odds have been -- have mostly played out in the travelers' favor in 2023, with the X factor, of course, being how will mother nature cooperate? Will we see widespread thunderstorms like we saw over July 4th that led to a lot of cancellations, that were largely unpreventable?


MUNTEAN: The FAA is anticipating some ground stops today. Some big hubs on the list, too -- Phoenix, San Francisco, Orlando, Tampa, Miami. So, if you are trying to get around the weather, sometimes the best way is to drive. Sometimes Labor Day is really more of a driving holiday for people. And AAA says the best time to drive is today before 11:00 a.m. So finish watching CNN THIS MORNING and then hit the road. The worst time, between 11:00 and 9:00 a.m. in general.


In fact, here in D.C., some of the traffic could be three times the norm later on this afternoon. So try to hit the road soon. It's not going to be pretty out there.

MATTINGLY: Pete, I appreciate you telling people to watch CNN THIS MORNING all the way through, because Audie started this by saying it's the start of Labor Day weekend. And I was like, yo, we got like 52 minutes left of the show.

CORNISH: No. It's in my mind, OK. Vacation is in the mind.


CORNISH: Pete Muntean, thank you so much.

MATTINGLY: Thanks, buddy, appreciate it.

MUNTEAN: Anytime.

MATTINGLY: The legal bills for Trump's 18 co-defendants are adding up, and as we just heard, some are turning to crowdfunding to make ends meet. So what does being tight on money mean for their legal strategies? We're going to talk about that coming up next.


CORNISH: Former President Donald Trump co-defendants in the Georgia election subversion case face hefty legal bills as they mount a defense against this sprawling RICO indictment. So far Trump and his political machine have refused to assist with legal bills. So his one- time allies have to scramble to find other sources of funds. His former attorney Jenna Ellis, who is one of the co-defendants in this case, wrote a post on rebranded Twitter, quote, "I was reliably informed Trump isn't funding any of us who are indicted. Why isn't MAGA Inc. funding everyone's defense?"

Now a source close to Trump told CNN, I don't think Ellis would be on the top of Trump's list anyway. Since the indictment, Ellis has already raised more than $180,000 through a faith-based crowdfunding site called Give Send Go.

Joining us now with the analysis, CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, CNN political commentator Errol Louis, politics reporter for Semafor Shelby Talcott, and the national correspondent for "The Washington Post," Philip Bump. Welcome all of you to the table.

So I guess being --


CORNISH: Reporter for Semaphore, Shelby Talcott ,and the National Correspondent for "The Washington Post," Philip Bump. Welcome all of you to the table. So I guess being part of this process does not necessarily mean you're going to get the support of MAGA financially. Is that all that unusual? I mean, there are a couple of cases going on once yet. What have we seen so far?

SHELBY TALCOTT, POLITICS REPORTER, SEMAFOR: Yeah, I don't think it's unusual from the perspective of this situation, right? And the lawyers can probably speak to this better than I can in terms of whether it's unusual from the broader perspective.

But what I think is interesting is you have several of these codefendants trying to sever their trials. And from my understanding, one of the benefits of severing a trial would be that Trump's lawyers would not then be at that trial.

Anything that comes up that implicates Trump, maybe if the trial is severed, the codefendants aren't going to, you know what I mean, aren't going to argue against it. ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So first of all, I think Shelby's exactly right. One of the advantages to a defendant of having a severed trial, meaning two separate trials, is the ones who go second have a huge tactical advantage. You get to see the other side's playbook.

I mean, that is invaluable. On the question about payments for the codefendants, this is very unusual for a Trump case because he has historically, dating back to impeachment, covered himself by having his PACs and his associated entities pay for lawyers for co-counsel. Now, that's actually not illegal. This happens quite a bit.

CORNISH: People saw it as being to his benefit right?

HONIG: A hundred percent.

CORNISH: Right, that he keeps these people close (ph).

HONIG: Yes. This is a tactic that powerful rich people use. It's legal.


HONIG: Exactly. I mean, corporations are a great example. But by paying for someone else's attorneys, you make it really difficult for them to flip on you because if they do they have the courage to say to their lawyer, who's being funded by the boss, hey, I think my best interest would be going in and cooperating, you're going to lose that lawyer. You're going to have to pay for your own lawyer, which is really, really expensive. So it's protected Trump before and now it's not protecting him in the Georgia case.

TALCOTT: But does the PAC have the -- does the PAC have the money this time around to -


HONIG: That's right -

TALCOTT: -- pay for it? And if it doesn't, which it seems like it doesn't, would Trump himself, you know -

HONIG: Yeah.

MATTINGLY: You can answer that question before you even finished asking (ph).

TALCOTT: -- I feel like it is less Trump himself to pull his own funds out of it. I mean, he's not even funding his own legal defense, largely, right?

MATTINGLY: What were you going to say?

BUMP: Yeah, I was just going to say, I mean, we saw an example in Florida of this guy who had his lawyer paid for. There's a conflict because he gave false testimony, according to the federal government.

And his lawyer also worked for a guy who his false testimony, if he were to reverse that testimony, it would implicate his lawyer's other client. And so, he pulled out of that, and then what he did is he implicated other people in Trump's circuit.

And that's the question, right? It's very cheap if you leave Trump's orbit and then you testify against Trump and you make a deal, and then you don't have a criminal case anymore, right?

MATTINGLY: Right. Yeah.

BUMP: Trump has here two conflicting motivations. He's got the political question, the legal question. They're intermingled, right? The political question could solve his legal question if he's elected president. But so, he has to balance people like Jenna Ellis, who he has no indication to try and help, as I quote, said, since she flipped and is working for Ron DeSantis right now.

But he's in that same boat with a lot of different people. Do I help them and keep them loyal legally? What does that say politically? Do I let them use my political capital to raise money for their legal defenses? It's really, really complicated.

And it seems as though, based on the fact they don't have a whole lot of cash, some of the this going to end up weighing against Donald Trump.

CORNISH: Errol, what message does this send to other potential Trump supporters who may want to go, quote, unquote, that extra mile, right? I mean, this whole process of injustice is sort of an exercise in sending a message.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He has given them a lot to think about. Rudy Giuliani longtime supporter, and friend going back decades, not getting his bills paid, having to go to Mar-A-Lago on bended knee and basically beg for help. And apparently, the reaction was when Rudy Giuliani said, "Look, I went to court 60 times for you, and the response was, well, you lost all those cases." So --

MATTINGLY: That's a tough comeback.


LOUIS: That's real - that's a real food for thought. And, look, we know from Michael Cohen, his other longtime -

CORNISH: He talks about this frequently.

LOUIS: -- he talks about it frequently. He says it was based on the fact that he was left hung out to dry, his family's security was at stake, and that's when he turned and started talking.

And I think we can expect to see that with others as well.

MATTINGLY: Phil, to that point, though, I think one of the things Ellie, we've talked about this a couple of times. What is there to flip here? Which I think is the big question, right?

Like, Michael Cohen knew all the things about all the things in terms of the Trump Organization and what the former president was doing in his business life, pre-political life.

You look through the indictment, the Fulton County indictment, you look through the Jack Smith indictments as well, where it seems like on the case of the document, they kind of already rolled up everybody that's in the crosshairs to some degree.

I'm wondering what the flip is here.

BUMP: Yeah. I mean, so the guy we talked about in Florida had a very concrete thing.


BUMP: He said they asked me to delete this surveillance footage, right? So that's a very specific thing. Again, this is all alleged according to the indictment.


And it's a good question, right? The RICO indictment in Georgia has a lot of different components, and a lot of establishments of act that needs to be done. We've already seen some of the defendants there say U.S. -- you know, I did this fake elect (ph) thing as Donald Trump asked me to.

Things along those lines, I don't know. Jack Smith, and Fani Willis, know the sorts of things that they're going to be willing to trade for right? There may be nothing. There may not - you know, someone may say,

look," I'm ready to come to your side. I'll do whatever you need."

And they may say, you don't have anything. Like there's nothing you can do for me. So, it's a good question, and especially because some of these charges are very complicated and rooted. I don't want to say they're sort of loosely goosey, but they're like sort of ideological to some extent.

There's sort of - there's a theory of the case that needs to be made. I'm not an attorney. Elie can maybe speak to this. But, you know, maybe --


CORNISH: Yeah. But more importantly, there's four of them and you've got to pay for lawyers for all of them while running a campaign.

LOUIS: That's right. It's extremely expensive. I mean, we've seen -

CORNISH: That's a lot of billable hours.

LOUIS: -- how Donald Trump has been drawing down a lot of his political money to pay for this. And some of these lawyers actually do want to get paid, you know? Donald Trump is famous for stiffing his attorneys.

Not everybody's going to get that kind of a deal or have that kind of influence.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, just going to be fast here. We've talked about it a lot. I know we have to go. But the idea of not just the organization and the mechanics of a campaign, not right now when you're plus 30 in a primary, but in a general election, when Joe Biden and his team are going to raise two plus billion dollars, it's not an insignificant factor.

All right, Elie, Shelby, Errol, Philip, hey, go Buckeyes this weekend. Thanks, guys appreciate it.

Well, an urgent manhunt is underway in Pennsylvania this morning for a convicted murderer who escaped prison. He's being described as, quote, "extremely dangerous." We're going to have the details. That's coming up next.



MATTINGLY: Well, this morning, a massive manhunt is underway in Pennsylvania after a convicted murderer escaped a prison outside of Philadelphia. Police say Danelo Cavalcante is, quote, "extremely dangerous," was last seen about 30 miles west of Philadelphia.

This is what he was wearing the last time he was seen a white T-shirt and white sneakers. CNN's Danny Freeman is live in Philadelphia.

Danny, we've talked this morning about kind of the way this was framed, this individual, the danger, the risk he poses. What's the latest? What do you know right now?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Phil, of course, the biggest question we still have at this moment is how this inmate escape. Law enforcement officials, have not given us an answer to that question, but as you said, they've just been emphasizing really 24 hours after this escape, this man is extremely dangerous, and residents in Chester County should be on high alert.

So let me tell you exactly how we got to this point. Like I said, this started about 24 hours ago at 8:50 A.M. on Thursday, yesterday morning. That's when law enforcement says that Danelo Cavalcante escaped from the Chester County Prison. Again, that's about 30 miles west of where we are here in Philadelphia. And I just want to repeat what you said. He was last seen at 9:40 wearing that white T-shirt, gray shorts and white sneakers.

And, Phil, that's important because law enforcement officials believe that he was able to actually change clothes after he escaped from the prison. And just to drill down on why law enforcement is being so strong with their language here about this inmate this man was just convicted of first-degree murder two weeks ago. He was just sentenced to life without the possibility of parole last

week. And that's all once he was found guilty of stabbing his former girlfriend, stabbing her 38 times, and killing her in front of her children.

And, Phil, the prosecutors in this case, say that the motive for that killing was that the girlfriend actually discovered that he was wanted in connection to a murder back in Brazil.

Prosecutors said she was going to expose that, and then that was the motivation for him killing his girlfriend. I want you to listen to exactly how dangerous the D.A. feels this suspect is. Take a listen.


DEB RYAN, CHESTER COUNTY D. ATTORNEY: His depravity knows no bounds. I mean, this is someone who has nothing to lose, as you indicated. So, I don't know what he's capable of doing if he's already engaged in a murder in broad daylight in front of her two children there's no stopping him from doing anything more egregious.


So, Phil, this manhunt is now in its second day. We know there are dozens of agencies that have been involved in this search. We've seen canines, we've seen drones, we've seen helicopters, and of course, a lot of officers on foot trying to bring this man back in with clear urgency.

MATTINGLY: Danny Freeman, great reporting. Thanks for the updates. Please keep us updated as the morning moves forward.

CORNISH: Now, a Missouri judge has ruled that a white homeowner must stand trial for shooting a black teen who mistakenly went to the wrong house to pick up his siblings. It comes after a preliminary hearing, which included testimony from twelve witnesses and 911 calls from neighbors, as well as the defendant.

The teen, Ralph Yarl, also testified in court Thursday, facing Lester for the first time since the shooting in April, Lester has pleaded not guilty to first-degree assault and armed criminal action. His next court appearance is set for September 20.

MATTINGLY: Well, in just about a minute and 22 seconds, the Labor Department will release the August Jobs Report. We're going to break down the numbers. That's just ahead.

CORNISH: President Biden asking Congress for four more billion dollars to refill FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund just as he calls for a short- term funding bill to avoid a government shutdown. So, can Congress get it done? We'll break it down next.